Favor repaid: Ukrainian family finds refuge in Los Angeles decades after ancestors saved a life

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Friday, June 2, 2023
Ukrainian family finds refuge in LA decades after life-saving gesture
Decades ago their ancestors saved a young Jewish girl during WWII. Now a Ukrainian refugee family is seeing their generosity repaid in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A favor repaid 80 years later.

A family of refugees from Ukraine arrived in Los Angeles this week, their flight to safety arranged in part as repayment for the lifesaving generosity of their own ancestors so many decades ago.

Those ancestors of the Bogancha family helped save a 14-year-old Jewish girl named Zhanna Dawson in the Soviet Union during World War II. As the Nazis made their way through the Ukraine, she and her family were facing the prospect of a death march that would eventually claim the lives of some 16,000 people.

Zhanna and her sister were able to escape thanks to her father's bribe of some Nazi soldiers - and then they found refuge with the Bogancha family.

Eventually Zhanna, a musical prodigy, made her way to the United States.

Her son, journalist Greg Dawson, would later tell her story in his 2010 book "Hiding in the Spotlight."

Marina Orlovetsky of Tarzana was astonished when she read the book. She was originally from the same region of the Ukraine but had never heard the story of the massacre and the girls' miraculous survival.

"I took it so personal," she recalled. "That's me, little Marina, walking with my dad."

She was so moved that she tracked down Zhanna Dawson, still alive and living in the United States, and struck up a friendship.

And then she was even able to contact the descendants of the Bogancha family online.

As Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Marina was determined to complete the circle of gratitude for those who rescued her friend all those years ago.

She assembled a network of people who helped arrange for the family to come to Los Angeles and have a place to live.

First 18-year-old Alex Bogancha arrived earlier this year, and was welcomed with a place to stay in Santa Monica. He even enrolled at Santa Monica College.

Unfortunately Alex never got a chance to meet Zhanna Dawson, as she died at age 95 only days before his arrival.

How rescue of Jewish sisters during Holocaust brought full-circle moment to Ukrainian refugee family

Their story begins with the rescue of two Jewish sisters during the Holocaust. Fast forward to present day and their descendants are now reciprocating that kindness.

This week, the rest of Alex's family arrived at LAX. Their reunion with Alex, and with the group of strangers who helped rescue them, was a tearful one.

Alex is already adjusting to and enjoying his new life.

"My favorite place here is Santa Monica pier," he said. "It's very famous but still I love it. And beaches. There are a lot of places definitely to see."

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